I was stuck in a post office queue recently and I started to daydream about Brittany. (The place, not a person). By the time I got to the counter, I felt I really had to come home and make a quatre quarts. Although versions of this cake can be found in pretty much any French supermarket, Brittany is its spiritual home. The cake is essentially a pound cake, but it’s all about good butter and in Brittany that means very good, salted butter. Incidentally, the name simply refers to the four quarters, the four ingredients of identical weight that make up the cake - eggs, flour, sugar and butter.
I add a little vanilla to the cake, which I don’t think is strictly authentic but I like it. Depending on whom you ask, baking powder may not be acceptable either, but I don’t care, I use it anyway. If you fancy a variation, chocolate and apple versions are very popular in Brittany too.
This will make enough mixture for a 2 lb (900 g) loaf tin and that’s the more common shape for the cake but you could use a round tin instead (21 cm diameter should be about right). It will also work well in small, individual loaf tins.
This cake reminds me of Carnac. Surely, I can’t be so shallow that I gaze upon one of Europe’s most majestic prehistoric landscapes and think of cake, can I? Well, nobody’s perfect.
3 eggs, weighed in their shells (If they're anything like the eggs from the local farm here that will amount to close to 200 g)
The same weight in
lightly salted butter (plus a little bit extra for rubbing on the tin)
1½ tsp of baking powder
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract (optional)
Mix the baking powder into the flour. Butter your chosen tin or tins thoroughly and line the base with baking paper just to be sure. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
Soften the butter over a very low heat or in a microwave (it should be very soft but not quite melted). Set the butter aside to cool. Separate the eggs. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly until the mixture is very pale. Whisk in the vanilla paste (or extract) if you’re using it. Sieve in a third of the flour and baking powder mix and add a third of the softened, cooled butter. Mix these in well, but try not to beat the mixture too much. Repeat this process twice with the remaining thirds of flour and butter.
Whisk the egg whites to the firm peak stage. Fold the egg whites into the mixture gently but thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until a knife or cake tester comes out clean. If the top begins to darken too much for your taste, then cover the cake loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking. (I've noticed that a lot of bakers in Brittany actually like quite a dark top on this type of cake and bake at a higher temperature to produce it).
Allow to cool a little in the tin before turning out to cool completely on a rack.